Melissa’s and my grandparents have been a huge source of guidance and support while growing up, and over the years we accumulated a lot of memories about each of them.  Melissa’s paternal grandparents used to live in Texas and then Arizona. They always had tiny ice cream cups with wooden spoons in their upstairs freezer for the kids.  Grandpa was a rock hound; he and Melissa used to fight over eating the fried fish tails.  Nanny made fudge and Christmas ornaments for the grandkids every year, which might be why Melissa now enjoys getting a new ornament each time we travel, then recounting stories about our trips when we put them on the tree.  Mimi and Grandaddy also lived in Texas.  He would usually grill food during the family visits, and would give “sample meat” to the kids, a term that persists to this day in the Barber household.  He would also take them to “the river”, which is either a snake infested shack or a refuge from life in the city, depending on who you talk to.  Mimi liked to play poker and loved to play bridge.  She also made lemon pies with the kids and always left just a little bit of eagle brand sweetened condensed milk in the can for them to eat.  She was with us until December, 2007 and was able to meet Everett in utero before she passed away.

Next week we are taking Everett to meet Chris’ paternal grandparents in Houston.  They lived in Iowa for most of their lives before retiring in Texas several years ago.  Chris and Sean used to visit them on the farm almost every year while growing up, sometimes during summer and sometimes during winter.  Gramsy introduced us to all kinds of Midwestern treats like hamballs, rootbeer floats and hot dish.  She is a historian, a genealogist and a former schoolteacher;  from time to time she would take us along on historical tours or share with us the history of our family.  Grandpa accumulated quite a few toys as a farmer, the kind that we really didn’t get to experience while growing up in Bethesda but couldn’t get enough of during our visits: tractors, ATVs, motorcycles, Bobcats and snowmobiles (11 of them!).  Chris’ maternal grandmother Jodi Donnelly was with us until 2000; I can still hear her voice, and I can still smell her house and her cooking.  When I was young I remember riding in the passenger seat of her yellow Lincoln Continental, an absurdly large car, the size of which was further exaggerated because she was scarcely 5 feet tall, if that.  Seat belts simply were not used, and car seats for children were non-existent.  So she would drive around with a cigarette and the steering wheel in her left hand while her right hand was on my chest to keep me from toppling over during high-speed traffic maneuvers.  Keep in mind that this was in Washington D.C. where the mantra for drivers is “Never use your blinker: it gives away your next move”.  Also, Grandma was Italian and spoke with her hands quite a bit, so our conversations were interspersed with short diversions where she would convey her feelings to those around us about their driving ability (or lack thereof).  Sometimes this required freeing up a hand, other times an open window would suffice.  I think this is where I first learned to drive.  And there were many other things I learned from her such as: when you are sick, you go to grandma’s house and lay on the couch until you recuperate.  She was not would I would call a rule follower.  Her attitude was: rules are good to have; however, they do not apply to me.  I only had a couple years to get to know Mimi, but from the stories she told me I sense that she was not always a rule follower herself.  I so wish the two of them could have met each other – I think they would have gotten along famously.  I also wish they could have met Everett, for his sake but also for me and Melissa, to show them such a joyful part of our life together.  What a gift it has been to have our grandparents with us through childhood and adulthood.

One of our biggest regrets about moving to Wisconsin is that Everett’s grandparents aren’t closeby.  Nonetheless, he has been able to see them quite often, many times because of their willingness to travel to see him.  And we are looking forward to hearing the stories and memories that Everett gathers about each of them.

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